Day 12 | 16 May 2019 | Cusco to Wayqecha Cloud Forest Biological Station

I had a high level of anticipation for Manu Road when we left this morning, but I probably underestimated the distance we had to travel to get there. We also had a few birds that we needed to mop up on the way and since they were “target” birds it made for some hard toil in the car.

The first few were simple enough as they were at a large wetland (a declared RAMSAR site) called Huacarpay Lake (pronounced wa-kar-pie). It was open wetland, easy birding and it allowed us to move the list along.

On the way to Huacarpay, we set about a list reconciliation to make sure all our numbers were right.

Garret has his iGo Terra listing app, I’m using ebird and Birdlasser and then we have listing booklets given to us by Juan. The reconciliation was quite necessary as our various totals had diverged substantially and we needed a single version of the truth. Some of the observant members of the readership may have noticed some numbers that don’t tie up from one day to the next, so it was time to get it 100% correct.

We, as birders, may be hardcore, but we’re also super-nerds.

There was a particular reason Garret needed his list to be tip-top this morning. He was nearing a milestone of 2000 world birds and he wanted to make sure he could mark the moment appropriately in the field. He had some frantic moments as we neared our first stop and we still hadn’t finalized the reconciliation. There was every possibility that he’d miscounted and the milestone would pass him by without him realizing it.

We literally tallied our last bird as Juan invited/instructed us to get out of the car for some birding. The numbers tied up and relief washed over Garret’s face as he stepped out knowing, with absolute confidence, that he was on 1996.

Andean Gull

Yellow-billed Teal

Puna Ibis

Rusty Flowerpiercer

Sparkling Violetear

I reckon there are few people on the planet who are more on top of their list than Garret, so I also felt some degree of relief that we wouldn’t be high-fiving the wrong bird.

As an aside, I am the listing antithesis of Garret, so we may need to celebrate within a range of about 30 birds, if I get a milestone on this trip.

Number 1997 was a Yellow-winged Blackbird, followed closely by the quite sumptuously named Subtropical Doradito, which, in the flesh (feather?), is not sumptuous at all.

Sadly, 1999 was the prize bird of the morning – the endemic Bearded Mountaineer. It’s a beautiful, large hummingbird that gave us a real run-around before we finally nailed it. I was slightly disappointed with our view of this uber special as it was very brief, but good enough to move on. There was also a degree of disappointment on Garret’s face that the mountaineer wasn’t number 2000, especially when Juan announced that our next target bird was a bird called a Common Miner.

And that’s not a short story either. We had the option of a two-hour drive to the entrance to Manu, but the Miner took us on a four-hour detour to the top of another serpentine pass at 4300m. In fact, we didn’t have the option at all as we’ve placed our faith in Juan and he has delivered every time.

There was some justice in this rather plain bird being Garret’s 2000th as he was the one to spot and identify it. Furthermore, Garret is a self-confessed lover of brown birds so it didn’t seem out of place after all.

Common Miner

Common Miner

Time was marching on and I was still dreaming of Manu Road.

We climbed in the car and bumped and rattled, up and down, and eventually arrived at my lifelong birding utopia – the Manu Biosphere Reserve. We had an exciting stop about half way down one of the passes for a small flock of Black-faced Ibis, which was a bird I had been desperate to see so the detour had been well worth the effort.

Black-faced Ibis

Black-faced Ibis

Once again, this is an unsubstantiated fact, but it is said by many that Manu Biosphere Reserve is the most bio-diverse place on the planet. In bird numbers alone (never mind all the other mammals and creepy crawlies) there are over 1000 species. That’s huge.

We took the obligatory reserve entrance sign pics and climbed into the car. I was ready for two hours of Manu Road birding before it got dark. Daniel then engaged reverse and we turned off a side road in the opposite direction to Manu Road.

What the f….

“Where are we going?” I asked Juan, sounding a bit panicked, I’m sure.

“We’re off to look for the very localized Scribble-tailed Canastero” he answered, with absolutely no concern for my emotional state.

Just to be clear, I love an LBJ more than most, but this was not the time for LBJs. I wanted toucans, tanagers, hummingbirds, trogons, jacamars and motmots.

Let me give an analogy.

It’s like giving your 6-year-old a huge wrapped Christmas present on Christmas morning and then as he/she starts tearing at the wrapping paper, you whip it away and say that he/she will have to wait for Boxing Day. And then, as a replacement, you give him/her a chocolate. A smallish one too.

The canastero was an hour and a half round-trip through high altitude grassland and, aside from the canastero (huge relief given the circumstances), we pretty much didn’t see a single thing.

Scribble-tailed Canastero

Garret remarked that we were in the most bio-diverse place on earth but yet we couldn’t see any birds. The irony was not lost on me.

We finally returned to the gateway to my birding pleasures, but it was already 4:30pm and we only had 45 minutes of light remaining. That was all we needed for our bird of the day, which we unanimously chose as the Grey-breasted Mountain-Toucan. That was more like it – definitely one of our top birds to see on the trip.

Grey-breasted Mountain-toucan

Grey-breasted Mountain-toucan

You wouldn’t believe it, but we dumped our bags at the lodge and headed out for some pre-dinner owling, which is at least better than post dinner owling. Thankfully, the owling netted Band-winged and Swallow-tailed Nightjars but zero owls. It also allowed us a chance to see a pair of Chestnut-collared Swifts on a nest in a tunnel on Manu Road.

Band-tailed Nightjar

Chestnut-collared Swift

Garret and I both agreed that today was our toughest day of travel for a few reasons. The first being the incredibly low ratio of birding time to driving time. We also had expectations of forest flocks rather than target birding, which is often quite demanding and species-low.

But, it was still an excellent day as Garret got to 2000, we saw a bunch of lifers and we’re staying at the most beautiful lodge. And then there is the added bonus that tomorrow we are on Manu Road proper. We only have 35kms to drive to Cock of the Rock Lodge, but I reckon most of that will be on foot. We’ll certainly be reversing the ratio we had today.

  • Total day birds: 69
  • Total trip birds: 347
  • Total trip endemics: 33
  • Mike day lifers: 14
  • Mike total lifers: 285
  • Garret day lifers: 9
  • Garret trip lifers: 216
  • Bird of the day: Grey-breasted Mountain Tanager (when I said “unanimous” I meant Garret and I. Alex and Juan opted for the canastero)

Click here for day 13